Part atlas, part scrapbook, part bibliography, Literary Locales is a collection of links to pictorial Web sites devoted to the lives and works of writers. To the delight and consternation of users, the World Wide Web is an enormous haystack, one seeded helter skelter with needles of every description. Our task here is to collect and present those cherished by a certain kind of person, the reader curious about the birthplaces of authors, the cities and countrysides that inspire their muses, the self-created and self-revealing settings in which writers do their work — in short, those who share writers’ affinity with place. The sites themselves are sometimes simply informational; others are labors of love, testimonials to favorite authors or to favorite spots. Some consist of little more than a picture and a few lines of text; more ambitious sites treat visitors to virtual tours.
Virtual tours, of course, are not as good as the real thing, and by the real thing I mean either visiting the actual locale or, preferably, reading the book. We can breathe the air of Hardy’s Wessex only in the pages of Return of the Native or Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Only Wordsworth’s Prelude encompasses the emotional and imaginative spaces of the Lake Country that has beguiled poetry readers for two centuries. The true flavor of George Sand’s Vallée Noire is better sampled in Francois le Champi and La Petite Fadette than in the countryside of Berry. But if virtual tours are not as satisfying as the genuine article, they can give us at least some sense of place, some glimpses into the writer’s imagination that “half creates and half perceives.” And they can involve us a little more fully in the world from which the literature arose, the world that the literature engages and interprets. And in some cases, the sites may even draw us back into the literature, or perhaps inspire us to pick up an author for the first time. In sum, there is something in this site for almost everyone who likes to read.
The sites listed here vary greatly in scope, quality, and complexity. Some are quite spare while others are more detailed and presuppose familiarity with a writer’s work, like H. P. Lovecraft’s New England or Winnie the Pooh’s Ashdown Forest. A few sites require “navigation skills,” consisting of an opening page which the visitor may have to read with some care to find the desired links, like Hardy Country.
How does someone qualify for our listing? There is one simple qualification: One must be a writer and have a site with pictures relating to his or her life or work. Thus, there are writers treated here from Shakespeare to Zane Grey, and places from the Benedictine monastery of St. Martin where Kathleen Norris is an oblate to the San Francisco mansion of Danielle Steel (draw your own lesson from the opposition). If you think that a deserving writer has been overlooked or treated inadequately, fetch your camera and set matters to right. We are constantly open to new additions. This site abounds with examples upon which you can model your own page. Or you can submit GIFs or JPGs to us and we will construct a page for you.
The site also attempts to honor other literatures than those in English and European languages. Of course there is the expected complement of French sites, reflecting France’s love of its writers and artists, but there are many sites dedicated to German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, and Scandinavian writers. We are particularly proud, though, of our classical Chinese and east Asian representation. There may be fewer of these than there are of European and American sites, but we know of no place on the Internet where so many are posted in one place for the benefit of English speakers. The republic of literature recognizes no boundaries, and dedicated readers do not care who wrote a book so long as it is good reading.
Finally, with over 1,300 locations, “Literary Locales” cannot be experienced entirely in one or two sittings (or surfings). It is to be sampled like Forrest Gump’s “box of choklits” (“You never know what you gonna get!”). If a particular site is not your cup of tea (to mix a metaphor, although tea and chocolates make a nice combo), then there is the “Back” button (and by the way, we have excluded any of those pesky sites that prevent readers from leaving as well as sites with multiple pop-ups). For the benefit of our visitors, we provide two ways to navigate, chronological and alphabetical.
By garnering and arranging these sites (and sights), we hope that we are performing a service to readers. Although there is no substitute for a good book, no experience so intellectually, emotionally, and imaginatively broadening as a good read, we believe that the World Wide Web has an under-realized potential for promoting literacy. And considering that there are tens of thousands of maliciously created viruses out there in cyberland, we find it heartening that as a public service so many people have taken a more benign course and posted these testimonials to favorite writers.
So who will enjoy this site? Not only those curious about the birthplaces and homes of famous authors, but also those open to virtual tours of such places as
A final note on physical practicalities: Someone has observed that the Internet is the world’s largest library but that the books are all on the floor. Not only is it largely unorganized (search engines notwithstanding), there is no systematic and comprehensive listing of entries. Furthermore, sites come and go, often appearing without fanfare and languishing in neglect until they are taken down. Thus, there are doubtless many valuable sites that we have yet to discover. Also, between malfunctioning servers and the outright disappearance of sites, it is impossible to have all of our links working at any given moment. If a link does not respond, visit later. And please feel free to make suggestions, nominate sites, or call our attention to dead links.
Dept. of English & Comparative Literature
San Jose State University